Look out NY, DC is showing the country how our second amendment rights really matter; and you could be next.
The latest fight over gun control in Washington, DC, looks like one for New York to watch. It’s on the question of whether the District of Columbia can require residents applying for pistol permits to show “good reason.”
Short work was made of the question this week by US District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. He struck down DC’s requirement that gun-permit applicants provide a “good reason” to own a firearm. And he set an aggressive schedule to speedily resolve the granting of a permit to plaintiffs.
It’s not yet clear whether DC and its police chief, Cathy Lanier, are going to appeal the district court ruling. It is clear, though, that the case will echo in New York and other cities that require a showing of need to carry a pistol.
And no wonder.
The Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb was quoted by the Washington Free Beacon as calling it a “devastating loss for the District and its anti-gun-rights policy.” The Washington Post says it thrusts the district into a “national battle.”
That national battle could very well come to New York City. The city’s strict laws governing residents’ ability to carry a concealed gun would be vulnerable to the same constitutional objection as the DC gun laws.
If Scullin’s judgment were imposed on New York — either by a higher court or Congress — it would render unenforceable the city’s demand that permit applicants show a good reason (usually a clear need for self-defense) before getting approved.
It’s a big deal because the “good reason” hurdle is being used by municipalities to evade the Bill of Rights. What would be the reaction were Americans required to show “good reason” before they were allowed to pray in public?
Or before they were allowed to speak on a street corner? Or before they were allowed to publish or read newspapers? Or, for that matter, to demand to see a search warrant. Or to remain silent when arrested.
All are protected under the Bill of Rights. No questions asked.
What seems to have set Judge Scullin off is a local law that says that the police chief may issue a permit to carry a gun if “the applicant has good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol.”
Washington, DC, requires the showing of actual death threats and complaints to the police. Living in a “high-crime” area isn’t enough, the law says. Permit applicants have to “allege, in writing, serious threats of death or bodily harm.”
No such conditions are attached to the Second Amendment. Scullin concluded that the District of Columbia had failed to demonstrate that there is a “relationship, let alone a tight fit,” between public safety and the “good reason” requirement.
So, he reckoned, the district’s “good-reason” requirement “runs afoul of the Second Amendment.” He blocked the city from enforcing its handgun law, and he set an “expedited schedule” to resolve outstanding details.
That suggested the judge was tired of local officials trying to resist several Supreme Court decisions on the Second Amendment. The Heller case, for example, established that the right to “keep and bear arms” is an individual right, not that of a militia.
Heller, though, was also a case from Washington, DC, which is governed, ultimately, by Congress. A second landmark decision, known as McDonald v. Chicago, required the states to obey the Second Amendment.
Could this pattern be repeated in the case just decided? It may be that the local authorities won’t appeal, lest they risk setting a national precedent. It’s also possible to imagine that Congress will wake up to what’s happening in its own back yard.
Could Congress pass a law turning the tables on recalcitrant local authorities?
This is an irony for New York. The “most progressive state” is one of the “most regressive” when it comes to the Second Amendment. And it’s a far cry from New York’s roots; the state ratified the Constitution only on the condition that it would protect the right to bear arms. It carefully marked that condition in a famous statement put out in Poughkeepsie at the time the Constitution was ratified.
It asserted that the “people have the right to keep and bear arms.” It said nothing about them having to show good reason.
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